Group wants safer railroad crossings
Says government regulation needed
February 22, 1999
Web posted at: 2:45 p.m. EST (1945 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new railroad safety group Monday called on Congress to investigate railroad crossings and other safety issues, saying accidents occur approximately every 90 minutes and are too often blamed on innocent motorists and not on malfunctioning railroad equipment and outdated rail technology.
"Too many people are dying in railroad accidents that could be prevented," said Sherry Kiesling Fox, executive director of the Texas-based group called RailWatch.
RailWatch, which claims the support of 300 municipal officials across the country, released a report showing that the number of train accidents in the United States has remained relatively constant for the past seven years.
But Fox said the number -- approximately 3.5 accidents for every 1 million miles of train travel -- is too high. Because wrecks are rarely large enough to make national news, the true extent of the problem is being masked, Fox said.
In 1998, there were more than 500 deaths and 1,800 injuries in rail crossing accidents, the RailWatch report says.
"We believe railroad safety is an issue that deserves national debate, deserves national attention and demands this kind of attention from Congress," she told reporters at a Washington news conference.
'No gates, no lights, no bells, no stop signs'
She was joined by the parents of Ryan Moore, one of three teen-age boys killed in 1995 when a car they were riding in was hit by a train at a railroad crossing in Ohio.
The unmarked crossing is especially dangerous, Vicky Moore said, because it's at the bottom of road with a 15 percent incline and the railroad track is bordered on both sides with thick trees and heavy vegetation.
"There were no gates, no lights, no bells, no stop signs to warn of an oncoming train," Moore said. "One month before our accident a man was killed there, and one week before our accident there was another accident. In all there were eight people killed in a period of seven years at this one particular crossing before gates and lights were installed."
"Railroads should be forced to bear the responsibility of protecting us from their trains, especially when they own the tracks and have the right of way to barrel through our communities," Moore said.
Motorists at fault?
Moore said that "Operation Lifesaver," the railroad industry's public relations effort to warn motorists about the dangers of grade crossings, always depicts motorists as being at fault.
Operation Lifesaver announcements typically show motorists racing to beat a train, or motorists ignoring railroad warnings.
"We would like to see a public service announcement that shows things like malfunctioning gates and lights," Moore said. "I just think it's time for the railroads to accept the responsibility of protecting us through public safety.
RailWatch says 80 percent of public railroad crossings don't have lights and gates, a figure the group would like to see lowered. It also wants to see increased government regulation of the rail industry.
Fox declined to discuss the group's funding, including whether the trucking industry had contributed to its efforts.
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